Pet insurance for pre-existing conditions

The newest type of pet insurance can protect you from ever increasing renewal prices. Pre-existing conditions cover makes it easier to switch providers and still get these health issues covered.

How pre-existing cover works for pets

Until the creation of pre-existing pet insurance switching providers was difficult. Happily more and more providers are catering for this growing requirement. In this guide to pre-existing conditions pet insurance we’ll explain everything you need to know about how it works, who it is for and what to be aware of.  

Contents of this guide

What is a pre-existing medical condition?

Pre-existing medical conditions in their simplest form are medical conditions that currently exist or have previously existed. You might be familiar with the term pre-existing conditions in health insurance or travel insurance. 

How many pets are affected?

Research from Scratch & Patch in 2020 suggests that 30% of cats and dogs have pre-existing conditions, this is a significant proportion of the overall pet population across the UK. That could equate to as many as 3 million cats and dogs. 

It also poses a problem for consumers, as for new insurance policies, pre-existing conditions are excluded. Meaning that if pet owners wanted to continue to cover these medical conditions they would be forced to stay with their existing pet insurance provider, leaving them at risk of higher and higher premiums.

Insurance for pre-existing medical conditions is quite new to pet, with the first policies arriving in late 2019. Now there are 5 providers that can offer cover. 

  • Many Pets (formerly Bought By Many)
  • Direct Line (phone only) 
  • Lifetime Pet Cover
  • Petsure
  • VetsMediCover
  • Waggel

The frustration however is that cover takes different forms. Some of the providers above give you a certain limit for pre-existing conditions which increases each year provided that you haven’t claimed. While the others ask you to provide information about the pre-existing condition, it’s severity and treatment then provides an answer about whether it can or cannot be covered. 

What does it cover?

Of course with insurance it’s never as simple as the definition we provided at the start of this guide as each provider will have different meanings for their policies, so make sure to read the policy wording carefully so you know what definitions they have in place for pre-existing conditions. Let’s take a look at some of the key providers wordings below: 

 Many Pets 

“When we say “Pre-Existing condition” we mean anything your pet has had treatment, medication or advice for in the last 24 months.

This policy meets the demands and needs of individuals who require cover for an accident or illness that has already happened in the last 2 years. Any Pre-Existing condition which you need to make a claim for must have a three month period where there is no treatment, medication or advice.”

Scratch & Patch

“Our definition of a pre-existing condition for our policies is; Pre-existing condition: An injury or illness that:

  • Happened or first showed clinical signs,
  • Has the same diagnosis or clinical signs as an injury, illness or clinical sign your pet had,
  • Is caused by, relates to, or results from, an injury, illness or clinical sign your pet had, before the start date of your pet’s first period of insurance (inception) or before the date the cover level on your policy was increased. No matter where the injury, illness or clinical signs are noticed or happen in, or on, your pet’s body.”

Lifetime Pet Cover

“Any condition, Illness, Injury or Bilateral Condition which occurred or first showed Clinical Signs prior to the Policy start date, whether diagnosed or not or existing in any form even if the diagnosis changes. This includes if the condition, Illness, Injury or Bilateral Condition has the same diagnosis or is caused by, relates to or results from a condition, Illness or Injury which occurred prior to the policy start date. A condition will cease to be a pre-existing condition if:

a) The condition has been treated and Your Pet has fully recovered, leaving no susceptibility to future problems or underlying weakness and since that point;

b) The condition has been treated and Your Pet has not received any treatment for or in connection with the condition for a continuous period of 24 calendar months;

c) There are no symptoms or vet consultations relating to the condition for the previous 24 months”


“Pre-existing conditions until treatment or symptom free for 24 months.”


So you’ll see that the definitions range from the pretty straightforward to the rather complicated, but underlying these if your condition meets the following criteria it would usually be considered as pre-existing:

  • Any condition which occurred or first showed signs before you started your pet insurance policy
  • Any condition which has the same diagnosis or is related to another condition your pet had before you started your pet insurance policy.
  • The condition has been treated in the past 24 months or symptoms have been shown in the past 24 months.

You’ll see above references to bi-lateral conditions and later on we’ll explore the meaning of these and how they can affect your claim.

What types of pre-existing cover are there?

Cover for pre-existing conditions typically falls into two different categories.

Fully medically underwritten

The first, is a fully medically underwritten policy which is where you need to declare the conditions you’d like covered and the insurer will assess whether they are willing to cover them. 

Direct Line (phone only) is now the only two providers offering this type of cover.

The advantages of this cover are that you’ll have full knowledge and confidence whether the condition(s) will be covered at the point you buy the policy, and you’ll get the full cover limit to use on pre-existing conditions from the start of your policy. 

On the downside you may find that depending upon the condition you want to cover, its severity and the ongoing treatment path needed that they may reject the condition, and it will be excluded from any policy you purchase from them. You may also find that when claiming for pre-existing conditions there may be increased excess which apply. Check this in your policy documentation.  

Picture this

You have declared a condition of skin allergies for your dog and the condition has been accepted for a pre-existing conditions policy with an annual policy limit of £4,000.

Then you submit a claim after 6 months for skin allergy treatment treatment for a total of £1,200.

You then have £2,800 remaining of your annual limit for the rest of the policy year for any claims.

Then on renewal your policy reinstates to £4,000 for new and pre-existing conditions.

Meaning you can use this for further skin allergy treatment or any other treatment that’s needed.

Staggered pre-existing policies

The second is a policy based on different condition limits. With this you don’t need to tell the insurer the conditions your pet suffers from, instead they’ll provide you with cover up to a certain amount for each pre-existing condition.

The advantages of these policy types are that you don’t have to be accepted for the specific condition, so regardless of the severity of the condition you can claim for it as long as the condition isn’t specifically excluded. 

Drawbacks however are that your limit for claiming for these pre-existing conditions are lower, and increase over time. So in year one your limit may be as low at £500 and if you claim during year one then this limit remains at £500 for the next year. If you don’t claim then the limit increases usually to £1,000 in year 2 and then to the full policy limit in year 3 assuming no claims have been made. 

Picture this

You have a pre-existing condition policy with an annual limit of £4,000 but a pre-existing condition limit in the first year of £500.

You submit a claim after 6 months for skin allergy treatment for a total of £1,200.

The insurer pays £500 towards this claim and you need to pay the remainder.

Because you have claimed, next year your annual limit for pre-existing conditions remains at £500.

Then on renewal your policy reinstates to £4,000.

Meaning you can use this for further osteoarthritis treatment, broken leg treatment or any other conditions that arise.

All policies currently available are lifetime plans, meaning that the limit re-instates at renewal.

What conditions are usually covered?

For the staggered policies you can secure cover for most conditions, but every insurer does have its own list of conditions that it will and won’t cover so make sure to check the documents or speak to them directly.

Those policies where the conditions need to be declared you’ll find some conditions that will be rejected by the insurer. Both Scratch & Patch and Direct Line use the same system to calculate the risk associated with a particular condition but they will have different thresholds on the risk they are will to accept so it’s worth trying both providers to see if your condition can be covered by both, one or the other.

Generally conditions are split into 4 categories

  • Chronic conditions – These include diabetes, obesity and cancer as well as others. They are effectively ongoing conditions that need constant monitoring and treatment.
  • Historic conditions – These are illnesses or injuries that your pet has suffered from in the past but currently does not have. Things include joint pain.
  • Bi-lateral conditions – Bi-lateral conditions are those that affect both sides of your pet’s body. Elbow dysplasia is one such example of a bi-lateral condition. If one elbow needs treatment, then by its nature any similar treatment to the other elbow could also be then classed as pre-existing. 
  • Congenital conditions – These detail hereditary conditions, these being passed down from your pet’s parents, these include skeletal conditions, eye conditions or heart related conditions.

For the fully medically underwritten pre-existing policies, typical conditions that are covered include: 

  • Skin allergies
  • Broken bones
  • Cataracts
  • Corneal ulcers
  • FIV (Feline Aids)
  •  Gastroenteritis
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Patella luxation
  • Otitis 
  • Seizures  

However, its important to mention that because these fully medically underwritten policies take into account severity and treatment required it will be the case that some conditions will be accepted in some pets, whilst rejected in others. 

How can I compare pre-existing cover?

This is quite a difficult thing to do currently, because there are limited providers of pre-existing pet cover in the UK at the moment, and with there a difference in product, the price comparison sites aren’t able to compare like for like or build a panel large enough to provide valuable comparisons.

Many price comparison sites are working exclusively with an individual provider to provide pre-existing cover, but it shouldn’t be too long before there are more providers and a desire to build a way for pet owners to easily compare. 

For now, it’s definitely worth shopping around online and over the phone in the case of Direct Line to find the most suitable cover you can find. 

What affects the cost?

Typical insurance factors like pet age, pet breed and postcode will all impact the cost of your cover, but for fully medically underwritten policies particularly the details of the condition will impact this. 

The more severe the condition you declare the higher the cost will be. So for example, in our most recent price comparison using VetsMediCover (18/1/2022) provided the following quotes for a 3 year old male Border Collie living in Ringwood, Hampshire. 

  • Pre-existing cover (Gold Cover): £27.23/month for £4,000 vet fee cover

How can I impact the cost of pre-existing pet insurance?

Due to the more bespoke nature of pre-existing pet insurance the main factor in price is going to be the condition you’re looking to cover but if you are looking at staggered products then because you’re not declaring the condition you want covered you can affect the price by look at typical things to affect the price such as: 

  • Coinsurance and excess – adding a coinsurance payment or paying more as part of your excess will bring down the cost of your annual or monthly payment
  • Cover level – due to the limited number of policies available you might find that there are fewer cover levels, but there is some flexibility, for example VetsMediCover have Gold, Platinum and Diamond cover levels which all cover pre-existing conditions which will vary by price.
  • Optional extras – you may find that some providers give you the option to add things like overseas cover, farewell cover and legal fees. You can add and remove these to see the effect on your overall premium.  

For the fully underwritten policies, then there is nothing you can do about the condition itself , so it’s worth looking at the best way not to claim, or if you do claim how to limit the costs of a claim. Whilst this won’t impact your initial quote it could have benefits when it comes to renewal. You could look at: 

  • Shop around for vet treatment – Claims costs are going to be the biggest driver of your renewal price so it’s worth doing what you can to reduce the cost of treatment if your pet needs a vet visit. 
  • Medicines online – There are plenty of reputable online retailers of pet medicines which are usually much more competitive on price than if you were to go to your vet.
  • Prevention rather than cure – Taking a preventative approach to the health of your pet is the best way to make sure they don’t fall ill. Appropriate exercise, healthy diet, monitoring weight and even tracking activity through smart devices are all great ways to keep the risk of illness down. 

Common exclusions with pre-existing pet insurance?

Make sure you do your research with your chosen provider and check their exclusions which will be publicly available on their websites prior to purchasing. The most common exclusions on these policies are 

  • Waiting period – most providers impose a 14-day period in which claims for illnesses cannot be made. This is to protect against pet owners taking out coverage knowing that their pet needs treatment. It also allows customers a cooling off period where they can cancel their insurance policy at no cost. Find out more about how pet insurance waiting periods work.
  • Preventative treatment – this relates to regular treatment such as vaccinations, flea and worming treatment, grooming and other activities which are an element of general healthy pet ownership.
  • Pregnancy – usually anything related to pregnancy or complications arising from giving birth are not covered. 
  • Dangerous Dogs Act – there are a number of dogs listed in the UK governments Dangerous Dogs Act, insurers will not cover these. In the case of crossbreeds where the cross is one of the dogs in the Dangerous Dogs Act you’ll likely find that claims will be rejected and cover cancelled.

Alternatives to pre-existing pet insurance?

You can look to other cover levels, but these will typically exclude pre-existing conditions. The only way to get cover for existing medical conditions without taking a specific pre-existing conditions policy is to stay with your existing provider.

By staying with your current provider then any conditions accepted by them will still be able to be claimed for – depending on the policy type you have with them. 

If you’ve not got insurance in place already and you want to cover existing medical conditions then you’ll need a pre-existing insurance policy.

Of course, pet insurance isn’t a requirement in the UK so if you decide pet insurance isn’t right for you, then self-insurance is another option which involves setting aside some savings to pay for vet treatment should it be required.

If you are struggling to meet treatment costs you can speak to animal charities such as Blue Cross that may be able to assist. 

Pre-existing pet insurance FAQs

Do I need to renew my cover each year to keep pre-existing conditions?

Yes, insurance policies run for a policy year, at which point they need to be renewed. If you choose not to renew your policy then all cover will stop.

Are there additional excess payments for pre-existing claims?

It depends upon the provider. Some will impose their normal excess rates they have regardless of whether you’re claiming for a new condition or pre-existing one. Others do require you to pay additional excesses for claims on pre-existing conditions.

Does pre-existing conditions cover still allow me to claim for new conditions?

Yes. It’s just the way it’s named, you can still claim for new conditions up to the cover limit as needed.

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